The lovely Kate Long found my reference to the webcam on which she’s answering questions about writing (on VYou) which I wrote about here and has kindly offered some more words of advice about taking note – or not – of those offering a critique of your writing. Rather than leave it as a comment, which lots of people might miss, I’m putting it here, for all to see. Thank you Kate!
Kate Long says: “I’ve been thinking about how you learn to differentiate helpful from unhelpful criticism, and I’ve come up with a few more pointers. I might add them on VYou sometime. So, firstly, ask yourself if the critic has understood your work/your aims/your intended audience. I’ve had sixth form students complain there “isn’t enough action” in a Jane Austen novel, as if a decent fight scene or two would ‘lift the whole thing a notch’. If the criticism of your work isn’t relevant – ie that your novel doesn’t do something or other which you never actually intended it to do – then dismiss that suggestion because it’s not relevant for your writing at this time.
Therefore be clear who you’re writing for, and with what intent – do you want to deliver a moral message about the way the world works? Simply entertain/distract/console? Make your reader consider an aspect of his or her own life? Shake everyone up? Get their hearts racing, give them nightmares? There are so many different styles of novels out there and each requires judging by a different set of criteria. If your critic hasn’t ‘got’ your work, then treat their advice with caution.
That said, even misguided critics can offer up a gem here and there, so just because one point might be wrong, another could have some merit – don’t be too quick to dismiss.
I used to use (and actually still do when my editor sends back her notes) a tick, query, cross system. I’d put an x by anything I knew immediately wasn’t an appropriate criticism of my manuscript, a tick by a criticism I knew was probably right, and a question mark next to something I needed to go away and consider. Everyone needs feedback/editorial input at some point in the process, so having a system like this is useful.
Perhaps the best way you can build confidence in your ability to judge your own work is to continually read and analyse the work of other authors – obviously those with similar styles to yours but also those who write in different fields and genres, so you become used to judging by different criteria. That’s a muscle well worth exercising.”